The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 680/Editorial Gleanings

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Editorial Gleanings  (February, 1898) 
editor W.L. Distant

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issues 680 (February, 1898), p. 91–96


In Prof. Newton's 'Dictionary of Birds' (Introd. p. 2) it was stated that there still seemed to be need of a report by an ornithologist with regard to the species of two of the Geese in the celebrated fresco found in a tomb at Maydoom. Mr. G.E.H. Barrett-Hamilton has recently contributed to the 'Ibis' some results of a careful examination he made of this fresco during a visit to the Ghizeh Museum. There are six Geese in the picture, and, as Prof. Newton states, "four of these figures can be unhesitatingly referred to two species (Anser erythropus and A. ruficollis)." Of the two larger Geese in question, Mr. Hamilton considers they are "very poor representations of A. segetum, and rather resemble the nondescript kind of Geese which may be seen frequently in farmyards in Egypt." His opinion is that "either the artist did not know of the characters which distinguish the various species of Grey Goose among themselves (with the exception of the White-fronted species), or else his intention was to depict both wild and tame Geese together—a course of procedure which would, I think, be quite in keeping with the methods of the artists who produced the beautiful series of animal drawings on the Tomb of Thi, at Sakkârah, which are said to date from about b.c. 3500. The latter drawings show conclusively, I think, that the Egyptians of those early times had both tame Geese and tame Ducks."

"The Birds of London" are the subject of a most interesting article in the last number of the 'Edinburgh Review.' The author defines his area as comprised within a radius of four miles from Charing Cross. Among the record of many interesting facts we may mention that last year there was but one rookery in London. The Dabchick, or Little Grebe, is a regular visitor to St. James's Park. "It is not uncommon in the early hours of the morning for wandering Cuckoos to make their way into the parks, and last spring, about seven in the morning, one even roused the inhabitants of the Temple by its call." The last record of the Nightingale's appearance in London comes from Lincoln's Inn (April, 1897). It is at least singular that while most birds are diminishing, there is a "gradual invasion of London by the Wood Pigeons."

In the 'Strand Magazine' for January, Mr. James Scott has written and illustrated a paper on some experiments he has made to test "Insect Strength." The house-fly and the earwig were selected as the most suitable for the purpose. Mr. Scott appears to rather mix up the Coleoptera and Orthoptera, but his experiments with the earwig cannot be misunderstood, and one of these insects was ingeniously harnessed to a cart 1 in. long and ¾ in. wide, formed with a piece of cardboard, having its sides bent down, between which two pieces of lead-pencil (after the lead had been removed therefrom) were pivoted by means of a couple of needles. To this conveyance was attached the farther end of the cotton connected to the earwig, and then the service of the insect was patiently awaited. After having fully investigated the peculiar "snake" which encircled it, it showed signs of vigour, and made off at what "I suppose must be called a trot, dragging the cart quite easily behind it. Then a match was loaded upon the waggon, making apparently but little difference to the earwig. Matches were successively added until the load comprised an accumulation of eight. At this point the insect showed signs of a faint struggle, such as a horse does when slipping about the roadway with a somewhat heavy burden. Although he managed to propel a heavier load than this, it would be equivalent to overwork if he dragged more than eight. I placed the eight matches upon the scales, and found that their combined weight was twenty-four times that of the insect. Each piece of timber was four times longer than the carrier, making in all a load of wood thirty-two times longer than the earwig. A horse is thicker in depth than breadth; whereas an earwig's breadth exceeds that of its depth. In length (proportionately) there exists little noticeable difference; so that, for the purpose of description, it may be assumed that, except for the difference in the number of legs, a horse corresponds in proportion to an earwig." Mr. Scott has pictorially represented a front view of a horse laden with pieces of timber each of the comparative length of a match. There would be eight of these huge beams, and it "may be fairly doubted whether an ordinary horse (or even a pair of horses) would be endowed with sufficient strength to enable it to shift the load, without expecting the animal to drag it with tolerable ease."

The 'Revue Scientifique,' in its first number for this year, contains an interesting note on "La mémoire des poissons." It is copied from 'Le Chasseur francais,' and the incident was related by M. Mœbius. He placed a Pike in an aquarium with some small fish, which he afterwards separated from the "fresh-water shark" by a plate of glass. The Pike at first made desperate efforts to reach his prey, knocking himself furiously against the invisible obstacle till he was frequently giddy and apparently half-killed by the violence of the shock. Little by little, however, his greed succumbed to pain, and he left his desired victims in peace. At the end of three months the plate of glass was removed, and the Pike had thus free access to the fish that were formerly preserved by this obstacle; but, strange to say, he never approached them. The idea of pain, doubtless appreciable to his senses, had become so dominantly connected with the small fish as to prevent any further attack. This experiment—easy to renew—adds much light to the psychology of fishes.

Mr. Percy Selous, in the 'Bulletin de la Société Zoologique de France' (1897, p. 187), contributes some more observations on the habits of Rattlesnakes. In past years his Crotales had fed on nothing but mice, but now they took birds with avidity. Once he introduced a sparrow in a cage containing two large snakes, when both struck at it simultaneously, the bird escaping; but the largest snake had struck the other one by the head, and Mr. Selous had much trouble in separating them. The head of the smaller snake swelled rapidly, and he was afraid it would die, but after some time the swelling disappeared, and the wounded individual swallowed a mouse. This went to prove that their poison is somewhat harmless to the snakes themselves. Another strange observation was that sometimes these snakes disgorge pellets composed of hairs and feathers, after the manner of owls. Mr. Selous was bitten by one of these snakes. He immediately enlarged the wound with his knife, and sucked the same vigorously, till he thought he had extracted the poison, when he filled the wound with permanganate of potash. But the next day he was very ill, and, becoming worse, had to seek medical assistance, when he was ordered strychnine pills. He suffered, however, for some time, and still felt the effect at the time of writing.

In 'A Handy Guide to Fish Culture,' written by J.J. Armistead, and published by "The Angler, Limited," Scarborough and London, the amateur pisciculturist will find much invaluable advice, and the zoologist may glean a few facts. It is a condensation in brochure and very inexpensive form, of a larger work by the same author. Not only is the rearing of Trout described, but the construction, planting, and stocking of a fish-pond made clear to anyone who either wishes to follow the pursuit as a study, amusement, or as a business or source of profit. We have recently noticed several publications connected with aquaria; in this small treatise the reader may advance his knowledge from that afforded by the glass tank to what may be obtained from the fuller experience of a dam, or fish-pond, with its aquatic vegetation which is indispensable, its surrounding trees and plants which afford entomological provender, and the varied animal-life which must be introduced to afford the nutriment of fish.

A representative of Reuter's Agency has had an interview with the Hon. David W. Carnegie, son of the Earl of Southesk, who has just returned to England after a thirteen months' journey across the Great Victoria and Great Sandy Deserts of Western Australia. During his travels, which were from the south to the north of the Colony, Mr. Carnegie traversed nearly three thousand miles of unmapped and unexplored desert in the interior of Western Australia. In this country he met very small tribes of wandering blacks. They are nomadic, and this may be explained by the fact that their wells soon became exhausted, and they have always to be on the move in order to obtain water. Their method of hunting, too, causes them to be always moving. They set light to a tract of "spinifex" and then surround the burning bush, and throw sticks and spears at the Lizards and Rats that try to escape. Naturally in a very short time the country gets burnt up. Speaking of the natives in the interior Mr. Carnegie said:—"The people are very dark, and add to their blackness by smearing themselves with grease and ashes, a fact which makes their presence known at a considerable distance. They are very ugly—more like monkeys than anything else, with their flat foreheads and protruding lips. As a rule they are very thin, and of small stature—on two occasions only I saw men upwards of six feet in height. Men, women, and children are all stark naked. They make no houses, and have no villages. They simply scoop out a hole in the sand and squat in it. When they first saw our camels and caravan they were greatly excited, never having seen a white man before. We never suffered any hurt from them, but when any of them got us alone they tried to be nasty, and no doubt would have proved troublesome if they had been given much opportunity. They are only one degree removed from animals. It was only from the smoke caused by their hunting fires that we were able to track them, and so find water. After following their smoke we would suddenly come upon an encampment of them crouching in their holes, with their spare weapons hung up in the few surrounding parched-up trees."

Mr. R.B. Townshend, in a recent communication to the 'Westminster Gazette,' contravenes a published statement that the American Wolf has hitherto proved more than a match for any Dogs that could be brought against him, the matted hair round his throat making him invulnerable. The report went on to say that a new attempt was to be made against the scourge of the flocks and herds of the West with a pair of Irish Wolfhounds which had been specially imported for the purpose, and were now being trained "on a treadmill" at Louisville, Kentucky. Mr. Townshend writes that the new attempt is not new, except, perhaps, as regards the "treadmill" part of the business. Ten years ago an Irish Wolf-hound, "Leprechaun," bred by him, was taken to the neighbourhood of Fort Calgary, to hunt the Wolves of that district, which were destroying calves and foals. The ranchman who took out his "Lep." also took with him two others, "Patrick" and "Sheelah." They killed forty Coyotes the first winter, 1888–89, and he wrote an account of a run they had with a big Grey Wolf. The Coyote is about the size of a Collie; the Grey Wolf may be anything, from that of a Stag-hound to a Boar-hound. His informant said that "Lep." ran into the Grey Wolf first and the pair rolled over; they sprang to their feet and stood up on their hind legs, tearing at each other, and trying to beat each other down with their fore feet. It was a terrific battle, and twice "Lep." threw the Wolf, and twice the Wolf got away only to be collared again. Then "Paddy" and "Sheelah" came up and joined in, and the three finished him off. The American Wolf is undeniably a very formidable foe, but that time he met his match.

At a January meeting of the Zoological Society of London, the Secretary exhibited, on behalf of Professor Collett, a specimen of a supposed hybrid between the Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) and the Redwing (T. iliacus).

We have received the Annual Report (1896–97) of the Curator—Prof. Alex. Agassiz—of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College. We learn some particulars as to the official arrangements made by Prof. Agassiz for his expedition during this winter to the Fiji Islands, for the purpose of studying the coral reefs of that group. He was to be accompanied by Dr. Woodworth and Dr. Mayer, as assistants.

"The steamer 'Yaralla' has been chartered in Sydney for the expedition, and she is to meet us at Suva late in October. The outfit for the expedition has been shipped to Sydney to be placed on board the steamer we have chartered. In addition to the usual apparatus, for photographic purposes, for sounding and dredging, and for pelagic work, we take a diamond-drill outfit, and hope to find a suitable locality for boring on the rim of one of the atolls of the Fijis. The boring machinery will be in charge of an expert sent by the Sullivan Machine Company from whom this machinery was obtained. The Directors of the Bache Fund have made a large grant toward the expenses of this boring experiment.

"I am also indebted to Professor Brandt, of Kiel, for superintending for me the construction of a deep-sea self-closing tow-net, such as was used in the 'National' Expedition. Dr. Richard, of Paris, sent me a modified Giesbrecht net, such as is used by the Prince of Monaco on the 'Princess Alice,' and Dr. A. Dohrn kindly deputed Dr. Giesbrecht to send me one of the Giesbrecht nets from the Naples Station. These, together with the old and new styles of Tanner net, which we take with us, as well as a selfclosing net adopted by Dr. Townsend of the 'Albatross,' which he was kind enough to have made for me, will give us the means of comparing these different styles of deep-sea tow-nets, and of testing their comparative efficiency under similar circumstances."

A 'Catalogue of British Birds' in the collection of Mr. E.M. Connop, of Rollesby Hall, Norfolk, has been compiled by our old contributor Mr. Thomas Southwell, and contains rather more than is usually expected in such enumerations. The preface is a digest of information respecting the principal private ornithological collections made in Norfolk and their ultimate dispersal. There are also some details as to the life-histories of professional gunners, who have done much for British ornithology, are a vanishing race, and will leave little personal record. The enumeration of the birds is accompanied with—in most cases—careful localisation; date and method of acquisition; if purchased, sale and lot number given; and many other items which will afford material for the British Natural History of the future, when an attenuated fauna will be principally described by the connection it will bear with the authentic records of the past. It is published at Norwich.

In the January number of the 'Annals of Scottish Natural History,' Mr. J.A. Harvie-Brown has written on a subject to which he has paid much attention, "On the Minor Faunal Areas." His own words will give the best introduction to his memoir:—

"At the present time naturalists are endeavouring to arrive at conclusions regarding certain groups of phenomena relating to animal life, which phenomena have every appearance of being intimately associated with one another. These are: Bird Flight, Migration, Dispersal, and Distribution. As a first means towards their study I have long advocated the subdivision of larger areas into smaller sub-areas, and have illustrated my contention by treating this country of Scotland in such a manner. I have defined what we may call 'the Minor Faunal Areas of Scotland' from topographical and faunal standpoints.

"The Minor Faunal Areas of Scotland are at present defined either by the names of the principal river basins or from their isolated positions. 'Dee,' 'Forth,' 'Clyde' are examples of the former, and 'Outer Hebrides,' 'Orkney,' 'Shetland' are examples of the latter; whilst another group is indicated from their somewhat more general geographical position, independent of their great watersheds—and including these—such as 'Moray,' 'Sutherland,' 'West Ross,' or 'Argyll.'"